Roguery in Skaneateles

In 1857, James Fitton of Skaneateles and Chester Moses of Marcellus purchased a stock of cloth and raw materials from Dorastus Kellogg, a prominent local manufacturer of woolens, and went into business on their own, happily at first.

In June of 1858, Mr. Fitton journeyed to New York to raise funds for the purchase of wool, and Mr. Moses went west to contract for its delivery. However, when Mr. Moses returned to Skaneateles, he did not find Mr. Fitton. He became uneasy and went to New York to discover Fitton’s whereabouts. Upon arrival, he learned that Mr. Fitton had raised $40,000 on Wall Street, but was nowhere to be found.

Back in Skaneateles, Mr. Moses learned that a Mrs. Anderson of Skaneateles, “with whom Fitton was suspected of being on rather familiar terms,” was also missing, “and this satisfied him that there was roguery in the case.” Indeed, after some study, Moses learned that the couple had sailed for Europe in June, under fictitious names, and were now across the Atlantic.

This was bad news for Mr. Moses, but also for Mr. Fitton’s wife and children, who had been visiting friends in Providence, Rhode Island. The Times noted, “His wife was greatly overcome by the astounding intelligence.”

The New York City police sent Captain James Leonard to England in pursuit of Fitton, and he was soon on the fugitives’ trail. The New York Tribune reported:

“Fitton was followed about from place to place in company with his compagnon du voyage. Soon after Capt. Leonard’s arrival, and the discovery of the guilty pair, some disagreement arose between Mr. Fitton and his companion, in consequence of which she left him and returned by the next steamer to New York.

“Fitton soon became lonely, and his conscience smiting him sorely, he had determined in his own mind to return home… At the time of his arrest Capt. Leonard found upon his person about $25,000… Mr. Fitton made a full confession… He deeply regretted the course he had taken, and stated that he had made up his mind to return and make full restitution to those he had wronged. He had become infatuated with the woman, and it was on her account that he had pursued such a course. He frankly acknowledged his ‘departure from the paths of rectitude and virtue’ and seemed in great tribulation… He is about 45 or 50 and has a wife and very large family of children living at Skaneateles.”

For the readers’ edification, the Tribune also reported this about Fitton’s companion, “She is young and of very captivating appearance.”

As it turned out, Fitton could not be arrested in Europe, and was released. But true to his word, he returned on his own. In September of 1858, the Auburn Daily American described his reception in Skaneateles:

“The people are somewhat indignant, and on Wednesday evening last, Fitton was burned in effigy in the streets of that village. Fitton was sued the same day by one of his former partners, for the balance of the money alleged to have been taken by him.”

Done with Fitton, Chester Moses made a success of his woolen mill in Marcellus, supplying uniforms to the Union army during the Civil War, and serving as that village’s president for three one-year terms during the 1860s. His business flourished until his death in 1870.

And what of Captain James Leonard, who tracked down Fitton? The New York Tribune reported:

“Captain Leonard, when last heard from, was about visiting several of the continental cities, with a view of examining their various police systems — and such information as he may obtain will be used toward the improvement of our department. He will probably return in a week or two.”

Probably.

* * *

“Extensive Swindling Operation — The Swindler Gone to Europe with Another Man’s Wife” in The New York Times, July 16, 1858

“Remarkable Elopement and Desertion. From the New York Tribune.” in The Albany Evening Journal, August 31, 1858

“The Case of Fitton: He Repents and Will Return” in The Buffalo Courier, September 2, 1858

“James Fitton” in The Auburn Daily American, September 25, 1858

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